Rainforests, Orangutans & Saving a Species…
Palm oil – a raw material which touches so many aspects of our daily lives. Yet many of us are unaware the impact its production is having on the world. Pizza, chocolate, ice-cream, biscuits, soap, lotions, creams, cosmetics…. the list goes on. It is usually labelled as “vegetable oil” on ingredients lists, so we consumers can (almost) be forgiven for not knowing the damage that our buying habits are doing to the environment.
The cost to the environment in the production of palm oil is devastating. Oil palms grow in the tropical areas of Asia, Africa and South America. Indonesia – the home of the enigmatic Orangutan – is amongst the top five nations producing palm oil.
Rainforests are beautiful. They also exist for a purpose. They help to control climate change, by absorbing carbon dioxide, and perform a vital role in the prevention of drought. Their beauty is found in their natural biodiversity – home to 420 species of birds, 210 species of mammals, 254 species of reptiles, 368 species of freshwater fish, and 900 species of plants. [Figures courtesy of United Nations Environment Programme Scientists]. The loss of the rainforests is contributing massively to climate change with the clearance of every acre.
The Orangutan is on the brink of extinction. As their rainforest habitat diminishes, so too do their numbers. Orangutans are amongst humankind’s closest relatives – demonstrating a high level of intelligence and an ability to solve problems. There’s an immensely strong bond between mother and child, which lasts for the first eight years of a baby orangutan’s life. They’re also key indicators to the health of the rainforests. The orangutan’s place in the ecosystem is vital – not only to every other creature that depends on the rainforest for its existence, but to our survival too.
In their desperate attempt to find food when the chainsaws move into the rainforests, orangutans are reduced to foraging in the oil palm plantations, where they are either killed, or those who do survive – mainly the babies – are sold into the illegal pet trade.
At Borneo Orangutan Survival (BOS) in Indonesia, we are doing our utmost to prevent the extinction of the orangutan, facing the daily challenge in trying to turn the tide in favour of the species and its home.
100 years ago there were 300,000 wild Bornean orangutans. Today there are approximately 30,000 to 40,000 orangutans left in Borneo – and extinction in the wild is predicted within 5 to 10 years if nothing is done to prevent this from happening. At our Nyaru Menteng and Samboja Lestari projects in Indonesian Borneo, we have nearly 1,000 orangutans in our care, orangutans who are being rehabilitated, so that one day they can be returned to life in the wild – safe, protected rainforest that we are working hard to secure.
The palm oil issue is complex. Many communities in Borneo depend on these plantations for their existence. Condemning the industry is a lost cause. Wholesale destruction of the rainforests, for oil palm plantations, however, can be prevented. Existing degraded land can be used for this purpose, but the international community must demand it. Educating people about the dangers to the environment caused by our consumption of palm oil is vital.
This is why BOS are working with the Indonesian government and with local communities to find a solution to the problem. Progress is being made, but consumers can also play their part by putting pressure on those companies that use palm oil in their products to label them clearly, and then to persuade them to source oil which has been produced by environmentally friendly and sustainable methods.
The most important thing is that we don’t give up the fight to protect the rainforests, the orangutans, and, ultimately, ourselves.
You can help us save the orangutan by adopting an orphan today.
Many of you have been asking for a list of products. The BBC’s Panorama team has obliged here.